Excerpt from The Cleveland Clinic Way by Toby Cosgrove.

Coordinating business processes such as the payment of salaries, purchasing of supplies, billing, and organizational improvement is a key advantage of large group practices in that it frees up physicians to concentrate on providing better patient care. But improved patient outcomes result from more than just administrative efficiency—they stem from taking a team approach to the clinical treatment of patients like Stephanie Zimmerman. Increased collaboration among medical disciplines is visible today across the American healthcare system, and many medical authorities laud its merits. Yet collaboration is advancing with special force in large, physician-run group practices such as Cleveland Clinic. In these practices, collaboration is streamlining care and saving lives.

It’s easy to see why better teamwork can improve medical treatment. Medical knowledge today is vast—approximately 1,500 medical articles appear each day in about 4,000 journals.1 Individual physicians can master only small portions of a patient’s care. When patients get sick, they typically have to visit numerous specialists to get proper treatment. One study found that between 2000 and 2002, the typical Medicare beneficiary with a chronic condition  such as diabetes or heart disease saw up to 16 physicians in the course of a year, not to mention pharmacists, imaging technicians, and other specialists.2

Collaboration becomes more important as illnesses or conditions become more complex. To treat a patient who is experiencing epileptic seizures, for example, a neurologist will usually provide medication. If the seizures continue, scans are done, and a doctor who specializes in imaging the brain helps read the images to find out where in the brain the seizures originate. A neuropsychologist assesses the precise effects that the disease is having on a person’s functioning, given that surgical procedures can help improve some areas of function (such as memory) more than others. If surgery is indicated, a highly specialized neurosurgeon will perform the  operation.

All in all, effective treatment of epilepsy, a disease affecting 1 to 2 percent of the population, might require coordinating a half dozen or more specialists—in addition to nurses and technicians—to provide the best care. If these professionals work together as a tight-knit team, patients receive treatments that reflect the perspectives of a number of specialists, not just one or two. The handoff be-tween specialists becomes more fluid, inconveniencing patients less and resulting in fewer mistakes. Doctors educate one another about the case, enabling each to understand the patient more deeply and make better recommendations. The wasteful duplication of tests and scans is minimized. That is only the beginning of the list of benefits.

Studies show a need for better transitions between special-ties and a perception by many doctors that better coordination is  required.3 The good news is that change is coming. Doctors are re-organizing themselves to increase collaboration in dealing with specific patients and their illnesses, and this collaboration is helping to produce breakthrough innovations in care.